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FANTASY HOT TIP: Sonoma

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The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma means one final decision is in the way of Firestone Fantasy Challenge players for 2017.

In the previous 16 events of the Verizon IndyCar Series, most of the drivers were on the same agenda to win outright. However, in the California Wine Country, the scenarios are mixed. The quartet from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are vying for a season championship. Others, such as J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz for instance, need a result to maintain employment for 2018. In the case of both, neither pilot has a ride in the cards for next year.

So while some in Sunday’s 22-car lineup may choose a more conservative tact, others will view the action as a nothing to lose offering and maybe take risks that one would otherwise opt against. With those matters at hand, picking a team capable of raking in a large sum of points to close out the fantasy year could be tough.

Yours truly has thrown caution to the wind for the 17th and final outing and features a quartet of participants who have each had their own moment in the sun during the current campaign. Heading the list is current championship leader Josef Newgarden, attempting to become the first American driver to win the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so in 2012. Although the Tennessean arrives at Sonoma Raceway off a bad race at Watkins Glen when he came home in 18th, his ability to top the speed charts in both sessions on Friday, shows to me that he is ready to fight all out for the required crown-earning result.

Also on a bit of a roll entering Northern California is home state native, Alexander Rossi. With a win in New York and four other top-six or better placements in the last five races, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda chauffeur has to be viewed as a legit challenger on Sunday. The second-year veteran finished fifth at Sonoma a season ago.

While he has yet to return to the form he presented before his horrific accident suffered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is worth the risk of selecting this weekend, having finished sixth at this venue for the Windy City runners in 2011. Although the St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit he won upon to open this year, lacks the elevation changes present at Sonoma Raceway, the Frenchman’s talents on road courses are well documented in previous stints in both ChampCar and Formula One.

Rounding out my squad for race number seventeeen is Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion may have encountered the worst luck of any regular entrant in 2017. Mechanical failures have denied him chances at top-ten placements; however, the ECR group are in major need of a good result, in hopes of a significant boost in performance for 2018, when the American young gun will contest every event on the calendar.

Even though just one player in the hunt for a title is featured on Sunday’s lineup card, the group presented may take advantage of the overaggressive nature of others to close out 2017 with a better than expected climax.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad. A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory. Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.